Tuesday, December 30, 2014

That No-Man's Land Between Christmas and New Year's That's Just Kind of Holiday December 29, 2014

As my grandpappy would say, hey there, happy people! I do hope this week was good for all of you charming people. Down here in the Dominican Republic, we had cockroaches, Christmas dinner, the Piano Guys, and group photos where as usual, I didn't realize we were supposed to be smiling. It's Christmastime in Espaillat.

Christmas in the mission is a pretty fun time! We didn't have tons of family, home-cooked food, or snow, but we did have a heckuva lot of cards, a lot of laughs, a lot of music, and lots of happiness. We had to be in the house by dark on Christmas Eve unless we were at a dinner because the streets get pretty crazy, so we had an extra three hours in the evening to do non-proselyting stuff. This, of course, meant that we pumped up the Piano Guys Christmas album as the background music for a classic missionary THROWDOWN of Uno, Five Crowns, Egyptian Rat -insert your preferred variation of the third word in the name here-, and Dominoes. We actually got invited to a dinner but didn't end up being able to go because the guy who invited us didn't get off work until nine, and we had to be in the house for good by then. Luckily, our downstairs neighbor (whose name is America. And her husband's name is Chino.) had made a little bit of extra food and gave it to us because she loves having quiet neighbors. We missionaries always try to keep our wild parties on the DL. The next day was Christmas proper, and I got to call the family! Highlight of the season right there!

So here in the Dominican Republic, we have cockroaches. Of course I've heard of them, but I'd never actually had to deal with them before. There are two things I have to say on the subject. Firstly, pfft, duh, I'm not scared of them, claro, but I may or may not scream like a little girl every time they crawl over my foot in the shower. Secondly, if you drop a cockroach off of the Empire State Building, it will die. I know this, because I've killed them with a shoe, and if you think a fall from 381 meters does not have an impact that hard, I invite you to hit yourself in the head with a shoe and then jump off the Empire State Building and compare your experiences. That being said, I tell you what, the other night, I met the Hercules of cockroaches.

It was a calm evening. I was standing on the porch wringing out and hanging up my laundry when a cockroach skittered out from under a towel and crawled up my leg. This displeased me, so I carefully considered my options and then proceeded to roar like unto a majestic lion. On a combination of helium and acid. Okay. I screamed. Loud. I'm not ashamed to admit it. Not. Um. Right. *nervously laughs* Anyway, it crawled up my leg and I screamed and since it didn't take me long to decide that I didn't like it on my body, I knocked it off and stomped on it. One would think that this would do the trick. I lifted up my foot, expecting to see a little smear. And there was li'l Hercules. I had broken a couple of legs, and it wasn't able to walk very fast, but it was still very much alive. So I decided to up the ante. I pulled out one of the cinderblocks that holds our water bin, raised it up over my head, and dropped it on him. I picked the cinderblock up, this time sure that he was a goner. And there was li'l Hercules. He wasn't walking anymore, but his legs were still moving and he warn't dead yet. I knew it was time to pull out the stops. I dumped an entire bottle of hand sanitizer on him and lit the beast on fire. Two days later, he starved to death.

Anyway, I hope you all had a grand Christmas! All's well here in the Caribbean. We laugh, we eat, we love, and we serve. It's the mission life, and it's a good one. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Your humble servant,
Dallin Johnson

Monday, December 22, 2014

La Navidad December 22, 2014

There comes a moment in every missionary's life when he realizes, "Holy cow. I done didn't write last week." Well.

Merry Christmas! How are things back wherever you all are? Things are mighty fine here in Espaillat. I got through my first official transfer! I'm staying in Espaillat with Elder Miller for my second, but there was a change in housing. We lost an Elder Osorio but we gained an Elder Barlow. Now we have three Americans and I've taught them to play Five Crowns. 

Elders Osorio and Johnson

Turns out, there's actually an American food place here in our area called Cesar's Fast Food. Now, it's not really American. They do have hot dogs and hamburgers, but it's.... different. The hot dogs have corn on them. The burgers... Hmmm. They're like raspberry Jolly Ranchers. A raspberry Jolly Rancher tastes nothing like a raspberry, but it does taste good. So yes. These burgers only taste vaguely like a burger. I don't know the words for half of the stuff they put on it in Spanish. Or English. But they're good, and if you show up on a Tuesday, they'll give you a burger, fries, and a drink for only 100 pesos. The cultured American within me is wondering, "Why for the love of everything holy am I putting this in my body?" But the raging capitalist is crying, "YAS, GIRL, YAAASSS!!!"

Last week in church, I was talking to a fifteen-year-old lad who's a recent convert. I asked him how the Young Men meeting was. "It was good, but I had to give the closing prayer and I was super nervous," he said. "Why were you nervous?" I asked. "Well," he said, "because I wasn't sure if I could follow up the opening prayer. It was really good."

I MISS CHRISTMAS MUSIC! Ah. Okay. Just had to get that out of my system. Moving on.

So, time for the serious part. It's Christmas time. Cliché and easily expected enough, I'm going to say a word on being thankful for what we have. I've had eighteen Christmases in the United States. I know what it's like there, specifically in Logan. First is the snow. I've always loved the snow. Hated it, but loved it. Y'all understand. There is perhaps no more peaceful and existential moment for me than the feeling of being outside in a perfect snowfall at night. I think you've all seen the kind. It's when there's already a foot or more of snow on the ground. The sky is orange, and the snowflakes are big and fluffy. There's no wind. The air is quiet, and it's like the earth is holding its breath. One could almost believe the rest of the world's asleep. And it's just you. Silence. Perfect peace. Maybe it's just me; I love that. Of course there's also sledding or having a snowball fight till your nose turns pink and your cheeks sting and then you come inside and warm up with a mug of hot chocolate. Also, the food. Heaps of potatoes and gravy. Turkey. Ham. Ice cream. Salad with croutons. Plenty to drink. The feeling of going running in the snow because you feel gross from being a lazy eggnog drinker for a week and a half. The excitement of waking up on Christmas morning and opening presents. Singing Christmas songs. Spending time with family. Playing games, watching movies, and after Christmas is over, going to all the after-Christmas sales. It's a time of happiness and family and it's more or less a time of goodness.

In this area, the people don't have those blessings. The best houses are cobbled together from painted cinderblocks. There's no insulation. Most people have only two or three sets of clothing and couldn't afford heavy clothing even if it was available. If snow fell here, people would die. Christmas music isn't even a thing. The streets rumble with bassy Denbó. Street preachers dot the sidewalks, shouting hellfire and damnation. In order to have enough to pay for Christmas food and one or two small presents, the honest people go out early in the morning and don't come back until late, working in whatever capacity they can possibly find to earn just a little more money. As for the dishonest, you have to watch your back during the day and avoid everything except for the main roads after dark. You hear stories during the day and gunshots to back them up at night. The things you see in the streets this time of year are both sad and humbling.

Now, I want to be clear that I'm not saying this for my own benefit. As missionaries, we have rules to protect us and we get money automatically put into our accounts every two weeks. We get invited over and we eat off of the grace and goodwill of the countless people who we are privileged to know. We don't suffer in any meaningful way.

But the point is this: as you open your presents on Christmas day, as you throw that first snowball, as you dig into your pile of mashed potatoes, remember. Remember that there are people out in the world who don't have what you have. Be grateful. Give thanks to God. And then do something. I don't care what. Help a neighbor. Donate something to DI. Be that person who leaves a mystery envelope with a little something extra inside. Give away money to help at home or abroad. I don't care. Just DO something. Make a little sacrifice. This is something that of course, sometimes we do. But all too often, we don't. We hear stories like this every Christmas. We give thanks for what we have. We feel bad for the poor. And then we do nothing about it. I know this. Because like I said, I've lived through eighteen Christmases in the States. It's practically tradition.

Anyway, I don't mean to Johnny Raincloud on anyone's Christmas. By all rights, I do hope you all get to participate in the wonderful above listed activities and have the grandest of times. But remember, and be grateful.
The elders in our house around our little tree. Yes, I'm not smart enough to look at the camera.

Love you. Hope you all have a cheerful Christmas. Say your prayers. Read your scriptures. Remember that the Chargers just beat the Niners at the Niners by three points in overtime after overcoming a twenty-one point deficit.

Peace on earth,

Monday, December 8, 2014

Week 6 in the Field, December 8, 2014

Today is a day of plus sides and down sides. On the plus side, I've figured out how to type a real quotation mark on this keyboard. On the downside, when people speak to me in Spanish, it's like they're speaking in a foreign language. Ladies and gentlemen, it's week 6 of the field.
Let's do this.
So I think while we're on the subject of foreign language, it's time for.... the LANGUAGE GAFFE OF THE WEEK!!!!! *applause* Yes, yes, six weeks in and I still speak a disgusting cocktail of botched grammar and broken dreams. Anyhow, I was talking to a lady we met on the street. She asked me how I liked it here. Before I tell you what I said, I must share a small note about Spanish. The word for winter is "invierno" and the word for Hell is "infierno". They're very close, and really, you should just pronounce the v in invierno like a b. I did not. So what I responded was more or less, "I do like it here. But it's a little bit crazy, and sometimes being here makes me miss Hell. Some days after we've been walking around all day, Hell sounds nice. But there are lots of good people here!" Ha. Ha. Ha. Yeah. Moving on.
Speaking of moving on, I don't know if it's my shoes or what, but I am through with having blisters. Merciful heavens, if this goes any further, I'm just gonna tape my toes together, spray paint my feet brown, and walk around barefoot just to see if anyone can tell the difference. My great lozzy. I love walking. I do.
So we went to a baptism this last week. No, it wasn't one of ours. It was the baptism of one of the investigators of Elder Pawn and Elder Peatross, but we knew the investigator and he asked us to come. When we got to the church, we saw Peatross and Pawn scrambling around with mops, frantically bailing water out of the front door. They'd left the font to fill and forgotten about it for three hours. When they got back, the entire church was flooded. It was five forty-five and the baptism was scheduled to start at six. Everything worked out, though, because by a happy mistake, they'd failed to account for the Dominican time difference and showed up on time. The service started at 7:30 and all was well. Except for one of the other two's dignity after he skidded headfirst into the chapel and ripped his pants right up the back.
We went to a concert in Gazcue last Friday. Although I strongly suspect that the Dallin of six weeks ago wouldn't have cared for the music there, I also suspect that the Dallin of six weeks ago had not just been forced to endure a transfer-long battery of colmados and Dominican singing. I'll be honest. Would they hire this group to open the Super Bowl? No. Would they be just the thing to show at a free concert for a bunch of oatmeal-brained missionaries and their investigators? Ha. Gyahaha heck yes. It was awesome!! And best of all! I got to see my man Elder Blount and share a Clif Bar with him. Also, after two long months of tireless hunting, the search for Michael Foote was over. Stay tuned 'til next week for a more stylized version of that last sentence. By way of photographic explanation, this one is of me and Michael Foote.

The other is me being a filthy rule-breaker and holding a questionably beautiful woman in my arms. Hey, what can I say? When you've gotta be a tigre, you've gotta be a tigre.

Beach balls and beached whales,
Dallin Johnson
*Note- Michael Foote was the Medic up at BSA Camp Aspen Ridge when I was the Kitchen services director two summers ago. We've been friends for about six years, and it was astonishingly wonderful to learn Dallin was going to the same mission where Michael was serving.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

It's December! In the sun! December 1, 2014

Hey everybody!

So first things first. I have a sunburn. In a few days it will become a tan. And it is December. Welcome to the Dominican Republic. Help me when I have cancer bills.

This last week has been wonderful! It was Thanksgiving this last Thursday. Unfortuately, apparently someone forgot to tell the Dominicans that, so I got to go to a district meeting and eat Pica Pollo for Thanksgiving dinner. This actually doesn't bother me. However, someday I'm going to bring you all to Santo Domingo, take you to Pica Pollo, and show you all how funny of a joke that actually is. Proselyting was actually really good on Thanksgiving, though, and Elder Miller and I ate an apple tart thing that we'd bought on P-Day and saved in the fridge. 

As un-American as Thanksgiving was, we made up for it today. This morning, we met up with a bunch of other elders at one of the churches that actually has grass and played some honest-to-goodness, one-hand-touch, mission-approved football.

Following this, we went to a huge mall called Sambil and I. ATE. BURGER. KING. Like. Classic whopper, fries, and coke. My great lozzy, muooarrrgh it felt amazing! Actually, my body hasn't had to endure American fast food for over two months and it felt like the devil. For a minute there I thought I was going to vomit. But I felt so stinkin' patriotic that even if I had, it would've come out red, white, and blue.

An experience! A very long experience. So this last week, we taught one of our investigators the lesson on the law of chastity. This was a lesson that I'd been dreading having with her, and not just because hey, chastity, but because she's a golden investigator. She always keeps her commitments every time she makes one, she's started coming to church, and she even volunteers to say the opening prayer. Understand that in my experience, this is rare. Rare, but awesome. However, we knew that she had some issues with the law of chastity. Now, let me be clear (not to channel my inner Obama or anything). Because of the culture here in the Republic, pretty much every investigator you have is gonna have issues with the law of chastity. That's just how things are. This girl is living with her boyfriend (also common), but this actually isn't usually a huge problem. They've been living together a while, and most investigators with a testimony like hers will just get married and that will be the end of it. However, this girl is in an unusual situation. She's 22 and her boyfriend is 49. This presents a problem because she doesn't want to marry someone who's almost thirty years older than her, but she'd told us that she had nowhere else to go. She has a daughter and no money.

So I was worried! I was worrying during the walk there, I was worrying when we knocked on the door, and I was worrying when we sat down. We got past our initial pleasantries and I knew it was time. She said the opening prayer. I said amen, but as my companion started to introduce the lesson, I kept praying. Praying that she would stay. Praying that she could find a way to overcome this. Going nuts inside, really. I was scared. And then, out of nowhere, I had a thought. It hit me so hard I could've sworn someone said it aloud.

¨Fear is only the absence of faith.¨

This kind of surprised me. Anyone who spent a lot of time around me in late 2011 or early 2012 might remember that for a time, that phrase was practically my battlecry. Or maybe no one remembers because I translated it into Latin because I'm pretentious and Dallin Johnson and who remembers that kind of thing anyway? Irrelevant. The point is that it was something that hadn't even entered my mind in years. And yet, there it was- Fear is only the absence of faith. And so I stopped being afraid. I just stopped. And there, by the flickering candlelight, me and Elder Miller taught this woman the law of chastity. We held nothing back, we told her we loved her, and we had no fear.

She moved out the next night. I don't know where she went, but she moved out and she was in church on Sunday, and she knew it was right.

My thoughts on the subject are short and unoriginal, but nonetheless, never, EVER forget- Trust in the Lord. Always.

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas season,

P.S. Burger King and football. 'Murica.

Off-Key and What-In-The-Blue-Berry-Mother-of-Muffins-Was-That? Nov 24, 2014

Hello, people!

My merciful goodness. It seems impossible that it was three weeks ago that I hit the field. It feels like just yesterday me and the rest of Mosiah were rocking the MTC. But it's good to finally be working! It's been fantastic out here.

One of the things I miss from the MTC is the food. It was a little repetitive, but all things considered, it was some good stuff. Out here, not quiiite so much. There are two main problems. The first is that it's hard to find ingredients. This may actually be untrue, but if they're there, we can't read the labels. The second is the skill of the cooks involved. I'm not great. And my companion, though awesome, ain't exactly Gordon Ramsay. The other day, we had spaghetti. Spaghetti is a loose term here. The ingredients were as follows- water, noodles, tomato paste, diced onion, salt, carrots, peppers, all-purpose steak seasoning, chili powder, celery, and potatoes. I'll be honest here. Was it pretty bad? Yes. Am I upset about it? No. Am I gonna fire my personal chef and nutritionist? Maybe?

This last week, we had a morning where we had to wait ten extra minutes to leave the house. We couldn't open our front bars because a guagua sideswiped several boxes of chickens that our neighbor had stacked in front of the house and we're tired of chickens getting into our things. #thirdworldproblems

So here in the Dominican Republic, I have moments when I'm like. Huh? What's tha- wait... What in the- what? For example. The other day, I went on a companionship exchange with Elder Pawn-Kalilikane. He's an energetic fellow from Hawai'i who thank-everything-good-in-this-world goes by Elder Pawn. We were walking along a busy street when it started to rain. This didn't bother me, because I, like all good missionaries, know that every time you proselyte in the rain, your future wife gets hotter- er, becomes an even more beautiful daughter of God. However, it started to come down harder and harder until it was an absolute deluge. The gutters were overflowing and little rivulets of water were spilling down the sidewalk. Elder Pawn and I decided to take shelter under an overhanging roof by the side of the road. We'd waited for about ten minutes when I noticed a rather chubby gentleman wearing a pair of screaming lime green shorts and no shirt standing in front of a nearby colmado. He was staring up at a pvc pipe sticking out of the wall. Rain was still pouring, and the pipe was gushing out a heavy stream of water. The man looked one way. He looked the other. He gave a Cheshire smile. And then he popped open his shorts and started dancing. I'm sure I would have noticed it was inappropriate if I hadn't been laughing so hard. He wiggled, he woggled, he pulled out a bar of soap, and as hundreds of people looked on in utter shock, awe, and what-in-the-name-of-John-F.-Kennedy-is-he-doing, that man showerdanced like there was no tomorrow.

Yesterday, I discovered that our ward has a choir.  They're just starting out, and they're improving. But at the same time. Hmmm. How should I say this? They make scout camp sound like Pentatonix.

Something else about my ward though- They are focused and ready to work. I'm really blessed to be able to serve with these people. Yesterday, we had what's called a consejo de barrio. It's basically a monthly ward council. It was nothing short of inspiring to see these people working together to figure out how to push the missionary work to new heights. Every single member there was a convert. There were sixteen people there, and the two companionships of missionaries assigned to the ward have more time in the church than that entire group combined. It was a fantastic reminder of one of my favorite things about the gospel- whether you're born in the church or you're a recent convert or you come from whatever other background doesn't matter. It's what you're doing NOW that matters. And the conviction of the people here is breathtaking. God loves everyone, and I love the heart of a convert.

Anyhow, I hope you're all doing good things wherever you are! Have fun, laugh it up, and don't take yourself too seriously. I'll try to do the same :)

Much Love,
Dallin Johnson

íSeguir Adelante! November 17, 2014

Happy P Day, people!

Well, I still haven´t figured out how to type a dash. But on the plus side, it´s P Day!!! There´s something miraculous about P Day. It always seems to come right when you need it. I guess that´s the Lord for you.

So for all you people back in Utah dealing with snow and silly things like that, here's a picture of me at the  

ocean. :) Why yes, it IS a balmy 80 degrees, now that you mention it. Also, cannons. That is all.

Anyway, I'm sorry, but I'm gonna keep this one short. More of a spiritual thought than anything else.

I was reminded earlier this week of an experience that I had in the MTC. It was the second time we visited the University. I was walking with Elder Durrant when we were approached by a couple of Dominican students. One of them spoke English, and he told us that they were making a video for a class. In this video, they were asking people of different religions and ethnic groups for their thoughts on a certain political issue. Now, as much as I hate discussing politics, I really enjoy discussing politics. But it's very much against mission rules, both talking about politics while proselyting and being filmed doing so. We told them that we were sorry, but it was against the rules for us to participate in their video. They weren't having it and quickly explained that to meet people who were both missionaries AND Americans was a huge opportunity and we'd really be helping them out. Then the one who spoke English said something rather interesting. He said, ¨Don't worry about it. Just cover your nametag, and no one will know.¨ But we were adamant, and eventually they gave up and left.

After they left, I found myself pondering on the experience, and I was hit with a thought. They were right. We were in a foreign country. If we'd covered our tags, no one would have known. But then another thought hit me. Never cover your nametag. For us, as missionaries, the nametag is the most obvious outward sign that we're members of the church. We wear it everywhere we go, 24-7. For others, it's not always so simple. The nametag is not a physical thing, but it's there. It manifests itself through your words and actions. There are times when it's hard not to cover it. Sometimes, we're placed in environments where our values are in danger of being compromised, or where we might be accused of being too uptight or bigoted. It's hard to stand up and say no. To say that something is wrong and we won't just stand by and let it happen. But we must. We must stand, regardless of the consequences. To passively sit by is to invite regret. Be the change you want to see in the world. Stand for something. And never. NEVER cover your nametag.

That's it for this week. Best luck. Shovel your driveways :)

Much love,
Dallin Johnson

Working in El Campo, November 10, 2014

Hey hey, people!

I´m writing this from the field! PDay number one. Also, this keyboard´s punctuation keys do not put the punctuation marks printed on them, so this may get interesting. Also, this email is a mile long and I give props to anyone besides my mother who finishes it. Anyhow!

I´m loving my time out here. It´s pretty much the perfect training setting. The ward here is really good. They have strong leadership and a solid core of members who come every single week. I´m quickly learning that this is one of the biggest issues with the missionary work out here. Many of the Dominicans struggle keeping the commitment to come to church. But that´s okay! Part of our job is to help them. Another great boon in disguise is that the previous elders who had the area just before us were what they call tigres (disobedient young muchachos). This means that a lot of the people haven´t had much experience with the church and so we always have plenty of work to do. I´m also blessed to have a good trainer. My new companion is Elder Miller, a guy from Manti who served a year in the islands. He speaks fluent papiamento and spanish, making him trilingual. He´s been out seventeen months, and I like him a lot. He´s a hard worker and a good trainer.

My my, where to begin? Well, I reckon we´ll start at the beginning. After we said our goodbyes at the MTC, it was off to the mission home. Ónce there, we met our new companions and after waiting for nearly six hours for everyone in our house to get their turn being interviewed by President Corbitt, we headed off to the house. My area is smack in the middle of Santo Domingo, a region called Espaillat. I´m not sure whether or not it´s poor by Dominican standards, but it was a lot to take in at first.

The city is dirty. Trash is everywhere. Graffiti is on most surfaces, and there are bars covering every door and window. Chickens and dogs are everywhere, and the traffic is flat out insane. Cars whiz by within a couple of feet of pedestrians and motorcycles and bikes weave their way in and out of other vehicles. The main method of public transportation in my area are guaguas, a general term that can refer to either a bus or a vehicle resembling a van that got hauled out of a junkyard and had seats bolted in to fit as many people as possible. You´re packed in like sardines and it´s the kind of hot that makes you wish it was winter. Part of me thinks, ¨Huh. That´s kind of sketchy.¨ But another part thinks, ¨Huh. For 25 pesos I can go pretty much anywhere.¨ And so we ride guaguas.

I like Coke. That probably doesn´t mean much for most of you, but as some of you who know me well know, I don´t like Coke. But for whatever reason, I stinkin´ love the Coke here. In fact, buying a Coke at a colmado (a corner store always blaring brassy Dominican music) is pretty much my favorite thing ever.

I think I´ve mentioned before that people love dominoes here. They do. There are tables of old people playing dominoes eeeeverywhere in Espaillat. Yesterday, as me and Elder Miller were walking down the street on our way to a lesson with a gentleman named Wellington, we passed a table where a group of three old Dominican ladies were slinging ivory like champs. They stopped us and one of them invited us to stop and play dominoes with them. There was only room for one more player, so I let Miller have the honor. They slaughtered him. Several times. But afterward, one of the ladies actually sat in on the lesson with Wellington, who turned out to be her grandson. Unexpected, but cool!

I also got to have a language gaffe of the week this week! Yay for confused gringos! So a lot of words in Spanish are cognates with English. This means that if you have a decent understanding of Spanish suffixes, you can often guess on a word and be pretty much correct. As it happens, I´m pretty decent with such suffixes. I´ve been about ninety percent accurate with my guesses and felt pretty confident. But then there´s that ten percent. The other night, we had a birthday party for one of the members at the church. Me and Elder Miller went to it because it´s a good opportunity to build positive relationships with the members. About halfway through the party, they started playing music and dancing. Now, fun fact about me. I can´t dance very well. Coordination isn´t really my thing. A group of Dominicans asked if I was going to join in. I told them it was against the rules. They replied that it was against the rules to dance with other people, but not for me to dance by myself. Touché. They were right. But it was almost time to go home anyway, so I just told them that really, I´d love to, but I had to go, and anyway, it had been a long time since I´d felt really embarrassed, and if I did dance, I would end up getting super embarrassed. They laughed and I went on my way. However, that night, as I was studying my Spanish, reading the page on cognates, I came to a horrible realization. I hadn´t known the word for embarrassed, so I´d taken a guess. I´d used ¨embarazado,¨ because that fits the pattern. Unfortunately, rather than embarrassed, the word embarazado means... pregnant. I told them that it was a long time since I had been pregnant, and if I danced, I would end up getting super pregnant. As I came to this grotesque realization, I felt inexpressibly avergonzado. Avergonzado is the Spanish word for... Embarrassed. NYAGHwegklñawehahweñ. So that happened.

Anyway, I want to share something on a more serious note, and I bet it´s something that most of the missionaries who just hit the field are gonna be writing about, not just an isolated few. So, a couple of days ago, I remember thinking that I couldn´t remember the last time that I´d seen a building without bars over the door or windows. Well, on Saturday night, we found them. We went to a small community built under a bridge to try to motivate a couple of less active members to come to church the next day. We walked down a normal street, turned a normal corner, and then, down below me was sprawled the shabbiest collections of buildings I had seen in my entire life. It´s hard for me to describe the scene. Each one was a ramshackle hut pieced together with rotting pieces of plywood and bent slates of corrugated metal. They were packed into tight rows with only gaps of a few feet in front to serve as a road through.

We silently descended. My entire life, I´ve heard stories about world poverty. Seen pictures. Videos. Read speeches. The works. But let me tell you. Until you´ve actually seen it with your own eyes, it´s not the same. We talked with one family who had been living in their house for over forty years. This is a tiny structure lit by a single oil lamp. In the flickering shadows, I could see that it doubled as a chicken coop. Holes peppered the ceiling and walls, and in total, the building was probably about twenty feet by fifteen feet. Six people lived there. Now, this was a building that most Americans wouldn´t use as a backyard shed. The people living there didn´t have bars because they didn´t need them. A robber would find nothing there.

As me and Elder Miller left afterward, I found myself feeling rather reflective. Our house here doesn't have a metric ton of luxuries. We sleep behind two sets of bars and two locked doors. Our shower is a pipe sticking out of the wall that only runs cold. The power goes out almost every day, oftentimes more than once, and sometimes, the water stops running too. We have cockroaches. The water that comes out of the tap isn't safe to drink. But I´m grateful beyond anything that I can express for that place. Because there are people living in conditions umpteen times worse than that. And I know that there are places like that bridge village dotting this country and the world. Places that are even worse. And let me tell you. As I walked out of that little community, I thought about every time I complained about having a lukewarm shower, or that my soda ran flat, or that I didn´t really like the black bean soup we had for dinner, or any of the other first world problems we deal with in life. And I felt ashamed. I haven´t really had to live anything like that.

Our apartment is one of the nicest in our area, and if I really wanted to, all I would have to do is call my mission president and he would send me back to a warm bed, plenty of food, and more luxuries than I can even think of. I appreciate the countless blessings I´ve had in my life more than I ever have before, and I am still forced to acknowledge that I still can´t appreciate them as much as I should. Though I haven´t experienced it, I have seen true poverty, and although I am not a perfect person, if I have anything to say about it, I will never complain about my standard of living again as long as I live. For a much better and more proactive discourse on the same subject, see Elder Holland´s talk from general conference last month.

Anyway, I´m living the Caribbean life and loving it! Much love to you all. I hope to hear from all of y´all and hope things are going well!


Dallin Johnson

All Good Things Must Come to An End, October 30, 2014

Afternoon, all ye nice people!
     The enter key on my keyboard is functioning this week. Yay for more accurate conventions! So my MTC experience is coming to an end. It's the last P-Day before I get to yonder on out to el campo and start doing it for real every day. This is at once a liberating and horrifying prospect. On the one hand, I wanna get out there and get into it. On the other, I still don't speak Spanish. I had a moment last week where I was starting to feel fairly confident in my language skills. Then, we were introduced to present and past subjunctive, a subject I'm told is taught in a year-long course in most colleges. We were taught in two days. Ugh uhh ugh uhh ugh. That's the sound of my ego getting its teeth knocked out one at a time by a Dominican three-year-old with a tuna can who understands Spanish grammar better than me. And that's not the three-year-old, it's the tuna can. I can get by, and I can talk about the gospel like a champ, but the moment that the conversation shifts to anything non-gospel, me looking for the proper conjugation is like a blind man looking for a black dog painted with tar at the bottom of a pit in a cave at midnight on the night of a new moon. But that's okay. I'm told that most missionaries are functional, though not proficient, at the languge after about six weeks in the field. Fingers crossed!
     Speaking of the field, this last Friday, we got to go do some actual proselyting. We left right after lunch and joined up with a group of missionaries in the Santo Domingo West Mission. We were sitting there in the parking lot of a church, waiting for said missionaries to arrive. They started trickling in and who should I encounter but Hermana Katie Francis! Crazy coincidence, no? Now, most of you don't know this lass. Frankly, I don't know her particularly well myself outside of high school musicals (actual musicals performed by high schools, you silly moosen, not High School Musical) in which she would perform and I would play the cello in the pit. But her family used to live in the ward and our families are friends. Her mom also gave me my first ever piano lesson. It was mostly just nice to see a familiar face. She's the first true Loganite who I've met in five weeks here. Her Spanish is muy bueno.
     Anyway! I was paired up with a charming lad from Guatemala named Elder Giron (HE ROOOOOOAN!!). He didn't speak a word of English, which did prove a challenge at times. It was a great experience though, because although there's still a bucketload of stuff I don't understand, it's nice to know that not eeeeverything goes over my head. Truth be told, most of it was fairly boring. We had six teaching appointments, but three were cancelled and one had a guard rooster. Seriously. We came back four times. Every time we'd approach the door it would go like this (mostly translated):

Me: You think that diablo de fuego is still there?
Elder Giron: I don't know.
Me: You wanna go in front or should I?
Elder Giron: I'm only 21. I'm too young to die. Also, you need a lesson on Dominican hospitals sooner or later, gringo.
Me: Voy a matar usted. But okay.
*Tiptoeing in my loafers*
*Tiprunningformylifeing in my loafers*

     So that happened. In the other two appointments, I did little more than pray and bear my testimony. Side note here, but every time you ask a Dominican who they want to pray, without any hesitation, they point at the gringo. Luckily, I've got prayin' down. Also, Elder Giron was a really funny guy. Since so many people cancelled, we spent most of the time tracting, which, while not inherently very fun, it went by fast because Elder Giron and I could make each other laugh with physical humor if nothing else.
     My favorite part of the experience was just being able to see more of the city. There's stuff here that I've never seen before. #guardroosters There are also tables of older gentlemen playing dominoes everywhere. I don't know enough Spanish to fully comprehend the answer Elder Giron gave me when I asked why they like dominoes so much, but I imagine it's probably because this is the, ahem, *cough cough* Dominocan Republic. Jajajaja. Anyone? Anyone? ....Bueller? Well, alright then. Best of all, we climbed up to the top of this ten-story apartment building and looked out over a breathtaking sight. On the south side, we were two or three blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, which I have never before seen in my life except from the vantage point of an airplane. Ho. Lee. Cow. It boggles my mind to see a body of water that just goes so impossibly on and on and on. It's not hard to imagine why so many sailors before Columbus thought that sailing into such a void would be a one-way ticket to their own death. When I looked north, the sprawling metropolis of Santo Domingo was laid out like an ocean of concrete, palm tree, and haze. The biggest city that I've ever been to that I can remember well is good ole' Salt Lake City. The entire state of Utah has about two million residents. The city of Santo Domingo has four million residents. It's madness. But it's beautiful madness. Breathtaking madness. My goodness.
     In the MTC, we were told by the maestros that although the mission packet says not to bring cards, it's not actually against the rules to play cards in our rooms after family prayer as long as there's no betting involved and it doesn't go past quiet time. Yeah. I don't mean to brag, but I'm kind of tearing it up a little bit. We play a lot of BS. My record right now is 12-2. I received good card/board game training at the hands of my not-at-all-competitive-aunts-uncles-and-other-assorted-family-members-and-friends. Also, me and Elder Taylor are home teaching a senior missionary couple from Puerto Rico, the Feitos, who have a Five Crowns deck. No joke. They lent it out to us this morning, and as soon as I'm done here, it's about to go down. Yeah.
     Anyway, I'm gonna finish up by hoping that everyone has a lovely Halloween. We don't get to have a Halloween here. The natives say it's a gringo holiday, so everyone enjoy it enough for both yourselves and the eight hundred missionaries serving in this country. Aside from that, send me updates from the states! I may not reply in a very timely manner, but that's because time is limited and I'm sort of a complete windbag. Love you all! Have yourselves some adventures, and if you're not, go find one!

Pineapples and Pescado, October 16, 2014

¡Holá Mormónes! (and other assorted nice people)
     It's another lovely day in Santo Domingo, and hey hey, we're halfway done with the MTC experience. Time is really starting to pick up. It seems like only yesterday I was here typing up last week's email. I shan't complain though; I don't mind the time flying. It means that more and more, this is becoming life. And hey, although we have eaten dog here, we also get pineapple and mango with almost every lunch, and let me tell you something- Dominican pineapple is some good stuff. Every bite results in an explosion of ambrosianic juiciness that simply does not exist in American pineapple. And yes, to my knowledge, the word "ambrosianic" is not actually a real word. I made it up because there is a lexical gap in the English language where some chump forgot to make a word capable of accurately describing the sensational scrumptiosity of home-grown Carribean fruit.
  Probably the best part of this week was last Friday, when we had the opportunity to go to the university a few blocks from the Compound and go street contacting. An awful lot of the contacting involved us repeatedly asking people to talk slower and much was difficult to understand. However, it was an incredible experience because despite only being here for two weeks and often struggling to understand what people were saying, the people were all very nice and willing to help us express ourselves, and we were able to connect with actual, authentic, nonmember, not-church-employed Dominican civilians and we had many meaningful conversations and placed several Books of Mormon. On the other hand, this was also the site of my language gaffe of the week. A gentleman asked me why the Atonement was important, and I replied that it was because through the Atonement, we could be cleansed of "nuestros pescados." Yeah. The word for sin is pecado. I told the man that through the Atonement, we could be cleansed of our fish. Well, we live and learn!
     The third paragraph seems like a good place to thank my lovely, charming, never-praised-enough mother for a couple of things on a musical note. Firstly, for forcing me to learn how to play the piano. I eventually picked up the desire to improve, but if it wasn't for her initial encouragement, (e.g. threats of grounding, severe bodily harm, and removal of all things good and pleasant in life. Oh, and occasionally bribery. Nyahaha. :) Love you, mom) I never would have learned. And the ability to play the piano has vastly blessed my life and experience here. Also, I will never forget the sacrament meeting when my mother pointed at the bottom row of notes in the hymn book and said, "Hey, Dallin, let's sing this." She then proceeded to sing the bass line until I learned how to do it without help. And yes, she did sing the bass line an octave up. She's an alto, not a circus animal. And although my singing voice isn't exceptional in any way, being able to sing parts has enabled me to participate in many swell renditions of hymns as well as some tomfoolery. We sang a lyrical rearrangement of the hymn Nearer, My God, to Thee in which we replaced all the lyrics with the words "Holá Mormónes."  Repetitive, but we actually sounded really good and we had the whole room cracking up at the sheer inanity of it all. Also, my mom sent me sheet music, which is kind of the shortcut to my heart. Mom, you are a Saint and I love you. Moving on.
     Life in the MTC has been funny as always. One of my roommates, Elder Empey (he's the one in the front of the attached picture) is quite the character. We were talking the other night and the conversation went about like this:

Me: When did you turn 18, Empey?
Empey: Like, two months ago.
Me: Oh, you have an August birthday?
Empey: Okay, like three months ago.
Me: You were born in July?
Empey: ..... Okay, like five months ago.
Me: Wha-?
Empey: I was born in May, okay?? Gosh!

       Maybe it was more of a you-had-to-be-there-moment, but I was down for the count. Cracked me right up. And then, ten minutes later, he comes in with a gold-framed picture of Jesus and yells, "Hey guys, we got another Jesus picture!" Every room has one, including ours. I was like, "Dude. Where'd you get that?" and he said, "I don't even know, man, but this is awesome." Then he tried to hang it on the curtain rod over the window and accidentally ripped the rod out of the wall. The picture of Jesus went plummeting to the ground and the frame cracked. Elder Blount quipped, "Now you've done it, Empey. You stole a picture of Jesus and broke it. Now you're going to Hell and you still won't know Spanish." Again. I was out. Now, to be clear, Empey is a smart kid and I love the man to death. He just says silly things sometimes. Speaking of silly things, tune in next week to hear the tale of the creation of the No Pull-Out Squad.

     So on Sunday, we watched a devotional given at the Provo MTC by Jeffrey R. Holland. We watch Provo devotionals at least two or three times a week. The crowd is always huge there, and I find myself grateful that I am in an MTC where there are only fifty other missionaries. Everyone knows everyone and the cohesiveness of the group extends beyond districts or missions to encompass the entire MTC. There's always a feeling of friendship and family here to a degree that I can't imagine being replicated among any other randomly selected group of young adults who've spent only three weeks together after having never met once beforehand. But I digress.
     The devotional was essentially an hour-long testimony. By Jeffrey R. Holland. On missionary work. That man spoke with a tongue of flame and cold steel. By the time he finished, I would have been more than happy to dive head-first into the fires of Mount Doom had he been so inclined to ask me to. He spoke of his own mission experience and how although there are times to have fun, this work is serious. He also said that every time he sees a missionary who isn't taking his calling seriously, he wants to knee him in the throat. His words, not mine. He said even after he died, if the Lord permitted him, he would haunt us, tap on our windows, and let the air out of our bike tires- whatever it takes to get our attention.
     All joking aside though, the magnitude of what he was saying really hit home, and I felt the Spirit testifying to me, and it finally sank in that this is my life now. Not only for the next two years, either. The things that I do here will stick with me and shape me for the rest of my life. People here always talk about going back to the real world, back to real life. This is the closest thing to real life that ANY of us will EVER get. That old life we once lived, that person we used to be, those things are gone. They do not exist anymore. And it's beautiful. Because from the ashes of the past emerges a better future. We've only been here for three weeks, and already I've felt the gospel shaping my life in ways I never imagined. I'm still Dallin. I still hate mint, love the Chargers, and enjoy nothing more than having a good laugh and cracking a stupid joke. But more and more, I make better choices, I feel more confident in myself, and my testimony grows daily.
     As many of you remember, I know a thing or two about making stupid mistakes. Senseless, moronic, thoughtless mistakes, whether it was struggling with church attendance, letting both my body and my mind go soft through unimaginable neglect, or my nocturnal escapades of a year ago. Even little things. In my three weeks here, I have experienced no small quantity of shame. Bar none, there is nothing in my life that I regret more than the unkind things I said or did in the name of a joke. So believe me when I say that I KNOW that this was not a mistake. This was the right choice. In fact, the decision to come serve the Lord out here is the best decision I have ever made in my entire life. If any of you are unsure whether or not a mission is right for you, stop wondering. Stop sitting around thinking about going. Do it. Just get up and do it. Whatever reservations you may have will take care of themselves. Have faith, trust in the Lord, and never allow yourself to sit idle when you could be taking action. 
     So! I love you all. Send me word from the Riddemark (I probably butchered that spelling. Someone correct me, please.) I also wouldn't be opposed to pictures from the States. It's nice to see as well as read what's going on. I miss you all more than I can say, and I'll write again next week.

Much love,

Week 2 in the Books, October 9, 2014

*Editor's note:
Now, I know leaving things with the format intact is part of the delicious flavor given in a letter, but somehow, I can’t do that to ya’ll. To read one solid unformatted long letter is just to painful to my eyes. I cheated. I formatted this letter for Dallin. Hah!
               I done got through another week! A note about this email. The internet wouldn't load the regular browser, so I had to start this in HTML mode, which means that apparently I can't use the enter key. One gigantic paragraph? Let's get started.
               Things are starting to stabilize here at the MTC as we get into a routine. The cook told us yesterday that the mystery meat that sometimes comes with lunch has been dog twice. I guess that makes three of us Johnson kids who work with dogs, eh, Holly at the Humane Society and Maren at the Puppy Steps training center? :)
               Time is moving more quickly and the constant studying is finally starting to pay off. The Spanish was intimidating at first. By the end of the first day, they had us praying in Spanish. By the end of the second day, we were bearing our testimonies. The evening of the third day, we taught a lesson. In Spanish. Although admittedly, "lesson" is a generous term. So is "Spanish." By now, I can have half-decent conversations with people and talking out loud actually adds to lessons instead of starting and subsequently destroying them with a broken Spanglish hammer. Yay!
               The MTC and temple are surrounded by walls with a gate, and there's even barbed wire on top of the wall by our outdoor study area. Our eating is regulated and we get one hour of exercise time per day. Jail jokes abound. My district made up a fake escape plan to tie up and sedate our teacher, blow the wall, and hang-glide back to the states off the top of a nearby 25-story apartment building. We deliberately left it on the board for our teacher to find. I was in the bathroom when he found it, but I heard the laughing down the hall and through two doors. Martinez, our teacher, has mastered physical humor and never fails to crack me up. I'm attaching a picture of the two of us.
               The teachers here are all slightly insane. Another one of them, Nuñez, is an avid anime watcher and mad frisbee player. Yesterday during gym time, we were playing ultimate frisbee and we started to lose. To be clear, missionaries don't keep score, we just have fun. But the other team started having a lot more fun than us. Nuñez cried, "TIME TO OPEN THE FIRST GATE!!" and started making waterbending motions. When we kept having less fun, he opened the second gate and donned a Naruto headband. Our struggles continued, and before long, he had disappeared. I then spotted him crouching in a corner of the parking lot, gouging a transmutation circle into the pavement with a rock. "THIRD GATE ACTIVATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" We finally cleaned up our act. Afterward, he said, "That was the closest to opening the fourth gate I've come in a long time. I've only done it once before, and I almost died." Crazy man.
               This last Tuesday, we left the compound for the first time since we arrived and went to a store about four blocks from the MTC. You don't know you're in a different country like you do when you're in a store. Everything from the products, the signs, the advertisements, the shoppers, the carts, and everything in between is different. The conversion rate is about forty pesos to the dollar. Some missionaries didn't realize this and one ended up spending almost one hundred and fifty dollars on food and ties. We also had an uncomfortable moment when I asked a worker where I could find "cerveza." On Sunday nights, we have ice cream, and I was looking for cherries. The word for cherry is "cereza." My district leader found me browsing in the liquor aisle. Turns out that cerveza means beer. Oops.
               Another thing about the Dominican Republic is that they don't celebrate Thanksgiving or Halloween, which means that they celebrate Christmas from October until January. Already I can hear the pained cries of Maren's soul from across the Atlantic. There's a park right outside the compound, and city workers have been winding Christmas lights around palm trees all week. It's a good thing I love me some Christmas.
              I've decided that someone should do a documentary about my district. Anyone who knows me will know that I love to laugh, but I rarely laugh particularly hard. With my district, I laugh until I cry every single day. Good souls with excellent senses of humor. 

Also, whenever things get really ridiculous, hearing Elder Blount shake his head and in his southern accent say, "Y'all need Jesus," gets me every time. A picture of him and myself is attached. At the same time, every single missionary there is capable of toning it down and being incredibly spiritual. I'm attaching a third picture. The people in it are all of the elders in my district. Why not with the hermanas? Well, simply because I don't yet have such a picture. One will be forthcoming! After I've learned how to do a decent smile in photos.

               So it's on to another week in the Dominican Republic for me. For all you folks back in the states, may the sun shine, the snow fall, and the women you all are allowed to so much as brush past without feeling guilty be beautiful daughters of God. The church is true! Love you all.  
Dallin's first Dominican Haircut